Ecologists Find Rare Wild Bush Dogs in Costa Rica Mountains

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Wild Bush Dogs, Costa Rica
Wild bush dog. Photo: University of Massachusetts.

Wildlife ecologists from the University of Massachusetts Amherst made a surprising discovery while studying conservation practices in the rugged Talamanca Mountains of Costa Rica, reports Alexander Schreyer. Carolina Saenz-Bolaños, a doctoral student, and Dr. Todd Fuller, her advisor and associate head at the Department of Environmental Conservation, were researching land use in the region and its impacts on the abundance of native species.

Talamanca Mountains of Costa Rica
Talamanca Mountains of Costa Rica. Photo: University of Massachusetts.

The ecologists had set up cameras to record wildlife in the region. When reviewing footage, they were stunned to see wild bush dogs (Speothos venaticus) in locations farther north and at the highest elevations ever recorded. Their findings were published in the journal Tropical Conservation Science.

Here’s a video of the bush dogs:

Video courtesy of University of Massachusetts.

The wild dogs are native to South America and are rarely seen there, in Costa Rica, or in neighboring Panama. Saenz-Bolaños has been studying wildlife and placing wildlife cameras in the region since 2012.

“I know most of the things that live here,” she said, “so when I saw them on the camera I said, ‘Wow, what is that – bush dogs here?’ I was very excited and thrilled to see them. The native people have a name for these dogs and their oral tradition says the dogs have been there in the past, but people living there now have never seen one.”

“They aren’t supposed to be there,” added Dr. Fuller, “but Carolina’s work shows they really are, and they seem to be doing well. Not only is this wild dog rare wherever it’s found, but this mountain range is very remote, with very little access. They could have been there before and we didn’t know it. So, we’re documenting them with this report.”

Bush Dogs in the Chester Zoo
Bush dogs in the Chester Zoo, Cheshire, England. Photo: Mike Peel.

Saenz-Bolaños collaborated with fellow UMass student Victor Montalvo and Eduardo Carrillo, a professor at Universidad Nacional de Costa Rica and a UMass Amherst adjunct professor, on her research.

The area where the bush dogs were seen is remote and without roads. Because it’s so inaccessible, the researchers are not sure if the wild dogs are there because they have expanded their range or if they’ve been there all along and were simply never seen by modern humans.

Vegetation, La Amistad International Park
Vegetation in La Amistad International Park, one of the areas where bush dogs were seen. Photo: Dirk M.

“There are still definitely interesting things to find out about them, especially if they’re expanding their range,” said Dr. Fuller.

Saenz-Bolaños plans to continue her research in the area and she says she hopes that other ecologists, park managers, and rangers in the region will set up their own cameras for additional glimpses of the wild canines.

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